The Myth of Selling Out

I remember when I first got involved in the writing communities online, some of them romance, some of them not. And in the non-romance communities, like where people wrote literary and science fiction and whatever, it was pretty well established that writing romance or erotica was selling out. Okay, so, I had to stop hanging out there…

But I still see it sometimes, the idea that at least we’re romance authors, not erotic romance authors. At least we’re published authors, not self-published authors. At least we’re writing about vampire sex, not dinosaur sex. At least we write about what we love and not BDSM Billionaire Cowboy Cagefighters like those other sellouts.

And I just… I don’t know where this hierarchy came from. I don’t know why it’s here.

How do we know they didn’t always love writing BDSM Billionaire Cowboy Cagefighters and the money is just gravy?? And how do I know that those authors of dino-erotica aren’t genuinely turned on by their subject and happy to be writing it? Why is that supposed to be shameful?

Most of the writers I interact with now are romance authors. I assume it’s because they want to be and not (only) because of money. Because… frankly… if you’re that focused on money, there are probably better ways to make it.

When you chat about day jobs, or old jobs, with writers you find out there are a lot of techie folks (like me), lawyers, corporate-types. It takes a LOT of books to match a six figure salary. I have definitely not sold that many books and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. So, I mean, everyone’s situation is different, but I’m just always going to assume that people are writing for the love of it. That is not only an idealistic view—it’s a logical one.

That said, I do want to make money.  I want to make money so that I can pay my bills. And I want to make money so that I can continue to spend most of my time writing instead of going back to that tech job. It’s for the love of writing that I want to make money. It’s for the love of living too. Why is that supposed to be shameful?

Even if you knew that I started writing [insert trend here] after it became a trend, as opposed to before, would that be wrong? Even if you knew I wrote it with the express goal of making as much money as possible, would that be wrong?

I don’t think so.

To me, if you sold out, you’d have to betray your principles. Selling out a friend, for example, would be a betrayal. But how can I sell out my writing? To know that, I have to know what my writing principles are…

For sure, I can tell you what they aren’t. I have no desire to put down an entire genre. I’m sorry but that’s just silly. Yes, there are genres I don’t care to read. In no way can I make the logical jump from “I don’t want to read this genre” to “this genre objectively sucks.”

As to what my writing principles are

I try to write the best book I can, from a technical standpoint. Ideally my writing would be lyrical and compelling. I study story structure, etc, so that I can get better at that larger scale too. Also, just the way that I write, characters come to me first. So I try to find their voice and then remain as loyal to it as I can.

Another writing principle relates to the wonkomance stuff, like I want to write the characters that are a little off-beat, a little quirky, and maybe not that well represented in the romance canon.

And I follow these principles—because I don’t really know any other way to write. If I sat down to write something else, there’d be no passion. I’d be bored as hell. Readers would be bored as hell.

Maybe someone else can disdain a genre and still write a bestselling book in it—but that isn’t me. Because I wouldn’t have enough passion to even finish the damn thing, for one. And because there’s not a single genre I disdain, for another.

Selling out is literally not an option. There’s really no way I can break my writing principles and sell more books.

Here’s the thing. I’m still a relatively new writer. I keep writing, one book and then another. At some point, if one of my books breaks out, that would be awesome, right? Yay!

But if it did, are people really going to point to the wonky aspects of my book and say, see? Clearly people want more wonk! Well, we at Wonkomance might say that :) But mostly, no. They’re going to find the parts that are similar to popular books or trends, and say it’s for those reasons.

I have a book coming out next week, How to Say Goodbye. If it flops, is it because the heroine is repressed and the hero is homeless? Because those are pretty wonky things… But if, in some alternative universe, it broke out and did super well, people would assume it’s because it’s new adult and new adult is popular.

There was a book that made the rounds with a lizard hero, and hey, I didn’t read it but that sounds a bit unique. And then I saw people saying it wasn’t new at all, because the lizard was basically the same old alpha hole. The point is that no matter how wonky you go, there are always recognizable aspects to a story. Which parts are responsible for its success? Which ones for its failure? I’m not sure it can be deconstructed like that, at least for my books and the way I make them.

I write what I write. The characters come to me, and I try to stay true to them.

As for sales, they come or don’t come. I don’t feel like I have much control over that, but if I could choose either, I would definitely vote for making money. And there shouldn’t be any shame in that.

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website
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12 Responses to The Myth of Selling Out

  1. Ruthie Knox says:

    This is such a great post. And a reminder to myself to avoid making these kinds of statements, or thinking about the world in these categories, because what’s true for you is true for me, and probably is true for all of us who write.

    Yay, Amber!

  2. Mia West says:

    I agree that selling out would mean a writer has violated his/her principles. But I think most statements *about* someone selling out say more about the speaker’s principles than the writer’s. With that in mind, I’ll keep writing whatever I please, for whatever reason.

    About the derogatory comments (“at least it’s this, not that”), I take a lot of care these days before I speak. Five years ago, I didn’t read romance, wouldn’t even have considered one. I thought I knew what the genre was about, but was just an arrogant outsider. Then a few things changed (I turned 40 and picked up OUTLANDER, among them), and romance stories began to speak to me on a level I never expected them to. So now I think: To each her own, and naysayers and elitists can suck it.

  3. Delphine Dryden says:

    I can’t even say (although I do sometimes think) “At least it’s this, not being a lawyer,” because I still have friends who are lawyers or in law-adjacent professions and they genuinely like their jobs.

    I think we all like to know where we stand relative to just about everybody else, in all sorts of ways, and that “at least this, not that other thing” is one of the ways our minds mediate that feeling. But I also believe if we’re working hard, writing what interests us and having a good time doing it, that’s pretty much fulfilling our side of the bargain. Whatever anybody else does (including writing dino porn, or buying our books) really isn’t under our control, so worrying about it is sorta pointless. If you’re having a good time and making enough to live on, that’s just gravy. And frankly, let’s all be honest, we would probably ALL be happy if we suddenly made scads of money at it. But that kind of money shouldn’t be either a requirement for being judged a “success” or an indictment of the integrity of anyone who achieves that.

    So…yeah! What you said!

  4. Maggie Wells says:

    Very well said, Amber. I’ve never been a fan of comparing myself to others. Everyone has a different backstory.

    And money is important. Anyone who says it’s not, is living in la la land. Like most authors, I dream of being able to write for a living, but it’s not just a matter of paying the bills. My hubby is self-employed, so that means in order for me to quit my day job, I would have to make enough to replace my salary as well as the cost of health insurance for our family.

    I applaud anyone who is able to make enough money from their writing to focus on it full-time. It’s not the money-making authors who are the sell outs, but those who believe the can sell their story short. Personally, I can’t imagine spending months writing, editing and revising a story ever saying, “I don’t care if I churn out crap as long as I can rake in the dough!” It’s a ridiculously bad return on investment.

  5. Nakeesha Seneb says:

    dinosaur erotica…wait, seriously? [clicks over to Amazon] Holy expletive!

    • Delphine Dryden says:

      Not only does it already exist, Andrew Schaffer has already spoofed it brilliantly.

  6. Fiona McGier says:

    Dinosaurs? I thought tentacled erotica was the weirdest I’d ever heard of! Honestly, what some people have roiling around in their creative brains never ceases to amaze me!

    No one writes romance to get rich. We write it because those are the stories our brains create. I’ve tried to force myself to write something that appears to be currently trendy, but I can’t even force a billionaire to appear in my mind, let alone tell me a story! I appear destined to labor in obscurity, churning out tales that make me happy, but don’t produce much in the way of royalties. So be it.

    But I’ve been at this long enough to get peeved when I tell people I’m an author, they ask what do I write, I reply “erotic romance”, and they look at me like I’m newly covered in something nasty like dog poop. Despite the fact that no one I’ve ever met has admitted that they read romances, it’s still the best-selling genre in eBooks. So SOMEONE is doing a whole lot of reading of books about which I keep being told “no one reads that kind of stuff.”

  7. Lisa Henry says:

    Great post! I can’t imagine doing this if I didn’t really love what I was writing. How depressing that would be! And I hope everyone else is writing whatever makes them happy too.

  8. Bona says:

    I think there’s a kind of Romantic (in the sense of the 19th century sensibility) prejudice about creative or artistic jobs. Before that time, every musician, writer or painter new that theirs was a job to receive money. And they created what the market asked for: operas, or portraits or religious scenes, even if the artist would have prefered a different theme in their jobs.
    But then suddenly art was about personal creativity, personal ideas and the ‘artist’ should not be understood by society and had to live poorly in a dark room in Paris. That’s why many disdain artists that use their creativity to earn money.
    But I think that you only have one life to live. It’s not worth to write things somebody would adore once you are dead. It’s nice to have a job you like and pay your bills with it.

  9. Pingback: The Sunday Post [12]: Progress Is Made & Links of Interest | Lost and Found In Fiction The Sunday Post [12]: Progress Is Made & Links of Interest | My Life in Words Read & Written

  10. Love this post. I’ve also found that there is no weird-sounding subject matter (like tentacle porn) that can’t be written as a terrific book by the right writer. Lyn Gala’s Claimings, Tails, & Other Alien Artifacts is a fantastic SF romance with one of the most genuinely “other” depiction of an alien species/society…It’s fascinating & after I finished, I thought, “I think that amazing book counts as tentacle sex. Tail sex, at least.” So I might as well get off my high horse, if I ever find myself on it, and just be open to the possibilities.

    As an author who is absolutely writing books to make money, I don’t find any conflict with also loving what I write & being proud of the stories I tell. Until they bring back the age of patrons of the arts, the rent’s still gotta get paid, so I hope I sell like fucking hotcakes someday.

  11. Joleen says:

    After I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify
    me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?